The United Health Foundation reports that the rate of teen suicide in Colorado is nearly double the national average — and has increased 58 percent in just three years. Although it’s not clear why, the Rocky Mountain West consistently reports higher rates of suicide than most places in the country. Colorado ranks sixth overall.
Mental Health Partners, a non-profit community health center that has served Boulder and Broomfield counties for more than 55 years, sees these statistics as evidence of a community health crisis. That’s why they launched their suicide-prevention campaign, Be 1 of 4098, back in 2018. The campaign aims to train 4,098 people to spot and help address symptoms of suicide in their loved ones.
“Unfortunately, Boulder and Broomfield counties — from 2006 to 2016 — lost 683 people to suicide completion. And we know that for every completion, on average, there’s 25 attempts,” says Kevin Braney, the director of employee engagement and training at Mental Health Partners. “Our goal is for our communities to become suicide-free.”
Because six people on average are significantly impacted when a person in their life dies, the campaign’s goal is to have a ratio of six trained people for every one person who has completed suicide.
“None of us walk through this world alone, and unfortunately, when people do have suicidal ideation, they feel very alone,” says Kristina Shaw, the marketing director at Mental Health Partners.
She also says it’s crucial to train community members on what to do if they suspect their loved one may be experiencing suicidal ideation, “almost like you would train people with CPR or first aid.”
Braney says it’s a myth that talking about mental illness and suicide might lead to an attempt or completion.
“Quite to the contrary — asking the question and engaging with them … is really the first step in an intervention,” Braney says.
Mental Health Partners kicked off Be 1 of 4098 on September 14 with the Boulder Skyline Traverse Challenge, a 16.3-mile trail run that raised $21,000 to help support the campaign. The money will go towards creating bilingual resources, getting more people into training and hiring more trainers.
While the challenge technically ends in December, Shaw says once Mental Health Partners reaches its goal of getting 4,098 people trained, they’ll just keep going.
“Our goal is for everybody to be trained,” Shaw says. “There’s such a variety of trainings that people can sign up for that it really does fit into anybody’s life and schedule.”
Mental Health Partners is currently offering four trainings, from a 90-minute training called QPR on simple tools to be able to engage in a suicidal crisis, all the way up to a two-day intensive program called Assist. In addition to coming to workplaces and working with larger groups, Mental Health Partners offers multiple trainings each month to the general public. Certain trainings are free of charge.
For those who are unable to attend the trainings, Braney says the most important thing someone can do for a person they might be worried about is ask. Key signs and symptoms include shifts in behavior such as withdrawal, hopelessness and talking about dying — or conversely, sudden euphoria or happiness.
“One of the things that I’ve learned through doing the work myself and through the trainings is that our instincts are really good,” Braney says. “When your instincts say that you’re concerned about a loved one, a coworker, a partner, whoever it might be — listen to those instincts and get help.”
September 30 marks the end of National Suicide Prevention Month. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, you can call the 24/7 statewide crisis line at 1-844-493-8255. Mental Health Partners’ website, www.MHPcolorado.org, also has a variety of resources and information. Additionally, you can access in-person support at their 24/7 Walk-In Crisis Services Center.